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Florida Senate Passes Plan To Address Vaping 'Epidemic'

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Florida lawmakers appear to have reached agreement on a proposal that would largely bring the state into compliance with federal laws about electronic cigarettes, in an effort to combat what health officials call a youth vaping "epidemic."

The Florida Senate on Friday signed off on its proposal (SB 810), which would identify e-cigarettes and vaping products as "tobacco products" and raise the age to purchase any tobacco products --- including tobacco cigarettes, dip and chew, as well as e-cigarettes --- from 18 to 21.

The age hike would bring Florida in line with a federal law that went into effect in January, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has defined "electronic nicotine delivery systems" as tobacco products since 2016.

House Speaker José Oliva, who had balked at raising the age to 21, reversed course, after the Senate passed its measure.

"We like what they have over there," Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, told reporters Friday evening. "Obviously, we liked what we have here. We've seen there's been greater consensus on what they have, so we've told them that we're open to bringing their bill over, even with that, raising the age."

A change to the Senate bill approved Thursday would create a separate "liquid nicotine product" category for products "composed of nicotine and other chemicals or substances which are sold or offered for sale for use with a vapor-generating electronic device."

Bill sponsor David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the proposal would break tobacco products into what he called "traditional tobacco products," such as cigarettes, and "nicotine products," such as electronic cigarettes.

The measure would also require retailers who sell e-cigarettes and vaping products to pay the same $50 permit fee to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as retailers that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The Senate approved the proposal with a 34-4 vote Friday. It now goes to the House.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, made a priority during this year's legislative session of addressing what health officials call a youth vaping "epidemic." The session is scheduled to end March 13 but might run longer.

Oliva, whose family made a fortune in the cigar business, said recently he had an "ideological" objection to the age hike.

"An adult is 18 years old. An adult can stand trial and be put to death. An adult can be sent to war. An adult can enter into contracts. Adults can do all of these things. But then we decide, for some things you're only somewhat of an adult. You need to be more of an adult than you are right now. So, I generally hesitate on ideological reasons on things like that," Oliva told reporters on Feb. 27.

The House's version of the plan would have regulated vape shops but would not have raised the age to 21 to use tobacco products.

Under the House bill, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees sales of tobacco, would have permitted and regulated vape shops by creating a new category of nicotine products under state law. The products, however, would not have been considered tobacco products.

Vape retailers, who are currently unregulated, have supported the House measure (HB 7089).

A variety of public health organizations --- including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids --- endorsed the Senate strategy and condemned the House's approach.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Dara Kam contributed to this report.)

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